Does Tianjin Tianbao Energy (HKG:1671) Have A Healthy Balance Sheet?

Published
June 11, 2022
SEHK:1671
Source: Shutterstock

Howard Marks put it nicely when he said that, rather than worrying about share price volatility, 'The possibility of permanent loss is the risk I worry about... and every practical investor I know worries about.' It's only natural to consider a company's balance sheet when you examine how risky it is, since debt is often involved when a business collapses. Importantly, Tianjin Tianbao Energy Co., Ltd. (HKG:1671) does carry debt. But the more important question is: how much risk is that debt creating?

Why Does Debt Bring Risk?

Generally speaking, debt only becomes a real problem when a company can't easily pay it off, either by raising capital or with its own cash flow. Part and parcel of capitalism is the process of 'creative destruction' where failed businesses are mercilessly liquidated by their bankers. While that is not too common, we often do see indebted companies permanently diluting shareholders because lenders force them to raise capital at a distressed price. Of course, debt can be an important tool in businesses, particularly capital heavy businesses. The first thing to do when considering how much debt a business uses is to look at its cash and debt together.

Check out our latest analysis for Tianjin Tianbao Energy

How Much Debt Does Tianjin Tianbao Energy Carry?

As you can see below, at the end of December 2021, Tianjin Tianbao Energy had CN¥298.1m of debt, up from CN¥195.6m a year ago. Click the image for more detail. However, it does have CN¥186.1m in cash offsetting this, leading to net debt of about CN¥112.0m.

debt-equity-history-analysis
SEHK:1671 Debt to Equity History June 11th 2022

How Strong Is Tianjin Tianbao Energy's Balance Sheet?

Zooming in on the latest balance sheet data, we can see that Tianjin Tianbao Energy had liabilities of CN¥318.5m due within 12 months and liabilities of CN¥142.9m due beyond that. Offsetting this, it had CN¥186.1m in cash and CN¥79.2m in receivables that were due within 12 months. So its liabilities total CN¥196.0m more than the combination of its cash and short-term receivables.

The deficiency here weighs heavily on the CN¥75.0m company itself, as if a child were struggling under the weight of an enormous back-pack full of books, his sports gear, and a trumpet. So we definitely think shareholders need to watch this one closely. After all, Tianjin Tianbao Energy would likely require a major re-capitalisation if it had to pay its creditors today.

We measure a company's debt load relative to its earnings power by looking at its net debt divided by its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) and by calculating how easily its earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) cover its interest expense (interest cover). This way, we consider both the absolute quantum of the debt, as well as the interest rates paid on it.

Even though Tianjin Tianbao Energy's debt is only 1.8, its interest cover is really very low at 1.6. The main reason for this is that it has such high depreciation and amortisation. While companies often boast that these charges are non-cash, most such businesses will therefore require ongoing investment (that is not expensed.) In any case, it's safe to say the company has meaningful debt. Shareholders should be aware that Tianjin Tianbao Energy's EBIT was down 59% last year. If that decline continues then paying off debt will be harder than selling foie gras at a vegan convention. When analysing debt levels, the balance sheet is the obvious place to start. But it is Tianjin Tianbao Energy's earnings that will influence how the balance sheet holds up in the future. So when considering debt, it's definitely worth looking at the earnings trend. Click here for an interactive snapshot.

Finally, a business needs free cash flow to pay off debt; accounting profits just don't cut it. So we always check how much of that EBIT is translated into free cash flow. Happily for any shareholders, Tianjin Tianbao Energy actually produced more free cash flow than EBIT over the last three years. That sort of strong cash generation warms our hearts like a puppy in a bumblebee suit.

Our View

To be frank both Tianjin Tianbao Energy's EBIT growth rate and its track record of staying on top of its total liabilities make us rather uncomfortable with its debt levels. But at least it's pretty decent at converting EBIT to free cash flow; that's encouraging. It's also worth noting that Tianjin Tianbao Energy is in the Electric Utilities industry, which is often considered to be quite defensive. We're quite clear that we consider Tianjin Tianbao Energy to be really rather risky, as a result of its balance sheet health. For this reason we're pretty cautious about the stock, and we think shareholders should keep a close eye on its liquidity. The balance sheet is clearly the area to focus on when you are analysing debt. However, not all investment risk resides within the balance sheet - far from it. Be aware that Tianjin Tianbao Energy is showing 4 warning signs in our investment analysis , and 1 of those can't be ignored...

At the end of the day, it's often better to focus on companies that are free from net debt. You can access our special list of such companies (all with a track record of profit growth). It's free.

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